Monday, September 9, 2013

150 Years: Retracing John Paul's Footsteps

     This August I made my fifth visit to Weißenstadt, Upper Franconia, Bavaria, whence my Great-Grandfather Busch emigrated in 1863. Synchronistically, but not intentionally, my first visit was in 1963 on a trip engineered by my father to meet his German cousin (first, once removed), Max .  Again unintentionally, this year's visit marked the 150th anniversary of  the emigration of John Paul Busch, aka Johan Paulus Pösch, to the USA. 
     In Darkness Visible John Paul appears as Karl Bernhard (the surname of his paternal great-grandmother).  Karl and John Paul share similar backgrounds: born in Germany, emigrated during the American Civil War, served as firemen on a U.S. Navy vessel, died in an explosion caused by saboteurs in the Homestead Works in September, 1892.
Wedding portrait of John Paul Busch and Susanna Bollinger

        My host and guide in Weißenstadt was Max's daughter and my third cousin, Hanne Heuer, a native of the town.  Hanne attempted to school me in the Weißenstadt dialect, which is unique to the town. Hanne's mother Tilly, who grew up on a nearby farm, still does not know the nuances of the town dialect, even after living there for six decades. Tilly, however, speaks German with the regional Fichtelgebirge accent, which John Paul probably spoke.
      John Paul was the eldest child of Johan G.Pösch and Katherina Ruckdäschel. I considered using her surname as Karl's in the book, but decided that it would be too weird for anglophone readers. I have since found out via and Hanne that Weißenstadt over the years, including today, has been crawling with Ruckdäschels.

But I digress.
1. The Town Square.  The buildings surrounding this market square were standing in 1863, when John Paul left for America.  In 1823, much of Weißenstadt was destroyed by fire, so these buildings post-date that. The square is at the top of a steep hill, apparently for protection, and the town was built around it. 
2. Wunsiedler Strasse, top. This view is taken from the same spot as the previous photo, but to the right.  Wunsiedler is one of Weißenstadt's main business streets.  The Pösch Backerei, at #1, is the second building at left.  
 3. City Hall. Presumably, there are no rats in this Rathaus, only civil servants.

4. The Bakery. This spacious three-story building has been home to many generations of Pösches.The doors at left used to be the delivery entrance for horse-drawn vehicles. The Pösches didn't become bakers until after John Paul left town. JP was trained as a tanner, but also learned how to fire a boiler in the town brewery. l-r, Tilly, me, Hanne, her brother Werner, and his wife Petra.
5. Strawberry Cake.  Made by Tilly for my birthday.

6.. Wundsiedler Strasse from the bottom. It's quite a steep slope to the square at the top.
7. The lane to the Eger River.  The city hall is at left, the church off to the right.  This steep lane, which goes from the square to the river, must have been walked by John Paul many times.
8. The Town Brewery, built after the fire in 1823, rebuilt 1895. They got water from the Eger River, which runs by the brewery. Here John Paul learned how to fire boilers, a skill that brought him fortune and misfortune.  Towns in northern Europe used to have civic breweries, where townsfolk could make their own beer.  People, including children, frequently drank weak beer because of worries about diseases spread through water.
9. House on the Eger River, across from the old brewery. This house, once grand, is now vacant and falling into ruin.  According to Tilly, decades ago townswomen would haul laundry to the river in carts to wash it. However, sometimes the laundry would look dirtier when it came out of the river than when it went in.
10. The steep hillside from the bridge over the Eger, spire of the church (Lutheran) at top.  The brewery is on the river below the bridge.
11. St. James Lutheran Church, interior.  John Paul was baptized and confirmed here, along with many other generations of Pösches.  The minister here gave Max a copy of the church records of the Pösch family, going back to Peter in 1529. The records previous to that were lost when the church was burned down during the Thirty Years' War.
12. The galleries and organ. I played this organ (Bach, what else?) in 1965.  Hanne said that when she was a child, as in John Paul's day, men and women sat on opposite sides of the sanctuary.
13. The church from the lake side of the hill.

14. Lake Weißenstadt panorama (Hanne and her husband Otto at right).  The original lake was expanded in the 1980s to shore up the region's faltering economic base.  Once an area known for porcelain factories and granite quarries, Upper Franconia fell on hard times.  The much larger lake is now a tourist center, with a huge campground, restaurants, and a fancy spa hotel on its shores. John Paul wouldn't recognize the lake today.
15. Pema bakery shop.  This commercial bakery in Weißenstadt produces heavy whole grain breads that are sold world-wide. To my amazement, my local food co-op, The Wedge, sells this bread. Small world.

16. 19th century houses.  In contrast to the house on the river, these lovely old houses are well maintained. They sit on one of the lanes behind the church.
17. Garages. These structures on the road below the Eger bridge are now used as garages, but in John Paul's day they would have been wagon and equipment sheds.

18. Potato storage sheds. For many decades, townspeople stored potatoes and other root vegetables in these little structures on the outskirts of town. Tilly said that at the end of the war, the townswomen hid in these sheds, fearing what conquering soldiers might do.  However, when the Americans arrived, the woman were relieved to find they had nothing to fear.
19. The Lutheran cemetery (chapel in background).  Generations of Pösches are buried here, including Max and his parents.

20. Looking east. Beyond the mountains in the distance (Oxenkopf, Schneeberg) is the Czech Republic, only 15 miles away. Hanne thinks that the surname Pösch might have Czech origins.

--Photos by Trilby Busch

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